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Sydney show: Mazda unveils stunning new ute

Selling a lifestyle: Mazda will be marketing the BT-50 4x4 dual-cab as a substitute for the traditional SUV.

Cracking new Mazda BT-50 one-tonner makes its world debut in Sydney

Mazda logo15 Oct 2010

By MARTON PETTENDY

MAZDA has lifted the veil of secrecy from its stunning new BT-50 utility, which appears to blend one-tonne load capacity and off-road capability with passenger car-like style and comfort like no other Japanese-brand ute before it.

Making its global debut this morning alongside its mechanical twin, the redesigned Ford Ranger, the all-new BT-50 was designed and developed in Australia, which will be its single biggest market worldwide.

Mazda’s next-generation workhorse will go into production alongside the new Ranger in the same Thailand factory as before from June 2011, before going on sale here later next year.

Key technical details and the exact model line-up remain under wraps for now, but the larger and vastly more imposing new BT will once again be available in a complete (but still all-diesel) range of competitively priced single, extended and dual-cab body styles in both cab-chassis and style-sided pick-up, and in 4x2 and 4x4 configurations.

One look at the new BT, which will be sold in almost as many markets as the Ranger (more than 180), is enough to know it is significantly longer, wider and taller than the existing model, leapfrogging the current generation of larger ute rivals that began with Toyota’s all-conquering HiLux in 2005.

22 center imageWhile the wheelbase and wheel tracks of the new BT are obviously significantly wider than before, GoAuto measured the tray of the one-off hand-built dual-cab model shown in Sydney and found it to be 35mm deeper at 500mm and almost 50mm wider at 1500mm (with 1100mm between the wheelarches), but 30mm shorter at 1500mm.

As previewed by the interior sketch Mazda issued recently, flagship BT-50 models should also come highly specified, with electronic stability control, hill descent control, six airbags, height-adjustable front seatbelts, five adjustable head restraints, five three-point seatbelts, dual-zone climate-control and foglights.

The Sydney show car, which Mazda introduced alongside its new Sky powertrains, offered plenty of head and shoulder room, and even more generous rear legroom.

It was shod with huge 265/65-section 17-inch tyres on alloy wheels and featured chrome doorhandles and door mirror housings.

Underneath are rear leaf springs with a solid rear axle, and a strut-type front suspension with lower A-arms, while a rotary dial on the centre console could be switched between 2H, 4H and 4L transmission modes.

Mazda also remains coy about sales expectations, but clearly expects to more than double its share of Australia’s booming light commercial vehicle market with the new model, which will play an integral role in Mazda Australia’s goal of achieving 100,000 annual sales by 2014.

Together, 4x2 and 4x4 utilities attract more Australians than all vehicle segments except small cars, with about 115,000 sold in the first three quarters of this year.

It is the ‘lifestyle’ oriented dual-cab section of the fast-growing 4x4 utility segment that will be directly targeted by Mazda’s new ‘Active Lifestyle Vehicle’.

Mazda is well represented in the single-cab workhorse segment but has remained a relatively minor player in the dual-cab class – a fact it aims to rectify by marketing the beefy new BT-50 4x4 dual-cab as a substitute for the traditional SUV.

More than 70,000 4x4 utes were sold in Australia to September this year – up 18.8 per cent on 2009 figures, making it the fifth-largest sales segment and the fastest-growing behind SUVs.

Yet the current BT-50 has claimed only a five per cent share of the 4x4 ute market with just over 3500 sales so far this year (down three per cent), ranking it seventh behind the dominant HiLux 4x4 – which has attracted more than 18,500 buyers this year – as well as the Nissan Navara, Holden Colorado, Mitsubishi Triton, Ford Ranger and Toyota LandCruiser.

In the same period, fewer than 46,000 4x2 utes have been sold (down 3.3 per cent), with less than 3500 BT-50s (down 16 per cent) placing Mazda sixth behind the HiLux, Holden Commodore, Ford Falcon, Triton and Ranger, with a 7.5 per cent share of the segment.

“We can’t give any details at present, but we’re going to significantly lift our share in one of the fastest-growing segments in the market,” said Mazda Australia managing director Doug Dickson.

“Over the past five years, the total new vehicle market has increased by about four per cent. There have been a few ups and downs due to the GFC in between, but in that same period the ute market has grown 14 per cent. It is now the second-largest segment in the industry, representing 16 per cent of total sales.

“It may sound counter-intuitive, but for some time now dual-cabs have actually outsold single-cabs by two to one. Looking at single-cabs, there are three main groups but by far the biggest is 4x4 diesel, in which Mazda has a credible 15 per cent share and we’re reasonably happy with that.

“Smaller but no less significant is the 4x2 diesel segment single-cab and we own a massive 35 per cent of that. We’re not represented in the petrol single-cab segment, which I believe is a space the Chinese are pretty keen to own, so Toyota’s workmate is probably going to be under a bit of pressure there.

“So it’s not a bad story for us with single-cabs, but with dual-cabs things are different. Mazda has not been anywhere near as successful here, with only around four per cent of diesel sales and again we’re not represented in petrol at all.

“We put our relative lack of success down to the predominantly workhorse-like configuration of the current BT-50 in a market that’s demanding more car-like comfort and style, and this is where we expect to see big gains with our all-new model.

“I’m not sure we can do much better in single-cab 4x2. With all-new BT-50, our aim is to grow that 4x4 single-cab diesel. In the passenger-oriented dual-cab variants we don’t do nearly as well, but we expect to make up a lot of ground.

“We do well with single-cabs and we’re looking to maintain that, but our main push will be in dual-cab, where we only do about four per cent, which is unacceptable from our point of view.” Mazda says history shows it can expect the new BT-50 to ride a similar wave of popularity experienced by other new model arrivals in the segment since 2005.

“We saw a big spike in dual-cab sales at the introduction by Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi of their new models four to five years ago and it appears that dual-cab customers are willing to consider new offers that are larger, more stylish and more car-like,” said Mr Dickson.

“Our opportunity to get a similar spike in sales will come with all-new BT-50.

“The second market insight that gives us some comfort is that dual-cab utes are now the dominant player in off-road 4x4 (sales). Among private buyers, dual-cabs are edging out the traditional SUVs.

“With Mazda’s strong private following, we see good reason why private buyers looking for a large, stylish and cost-effective alternative to a 4x4 SUV wagon will consider all-new BT-50.

“We think we’re on a winner, but ultimately our customers will decide that.” Mazda expects the new BT-50 to attract significantly younger buyers than the more utilitarian outgoing B-series model.

“Currently, BT-50 buyers are older than most of our successful competitors and our current ute is also more likely to be used purely as a work vehicle,” said Mr Dickson.

“With all-new BT-50, we expect the age of our customers will come down and we will target our media spend at males in the 30 to 49 age group, who are more likely to be small business owners and to have a family.” Mazda said it intended to redefine traditional utility convention – including that of its own B-Series, which has found more than 145,000 homes here since 1966, making it Mazda’s longest-running model series.

“Mazda set out to overturn the conventional image of the utility,” said Mr Dickson.

“We chose to develop all-new BT-50 from the ground up as a brand new type of vehicle, an active lifestyle vehicle with modern and refined styling.

“So, as well as the traditional core mandatories of strength and durability, all-new BT-50 represents universally recognisable style. It provides the perfect solution for a wide range of customers that lead an active lifestyle, including families, workers and pleasure-seekers.

“It will happily fill the role of a comfortable family vehicle. The all-new interior will set the benchmark in the ute class the cockpit is designed to wrap around the driver and to provide an environment that supports enthusiastic driving.” Asked if the BT-50’s upmarket push would also bring heftier prices, Mr Dickson said: “We’ve always been competitive and we don’t have any aim to move away from that so it’s going to be right there.” The local Mazda chief indicated the current BT-50’s all-diesel engine line-up would continue and that, although 74 per cent of one-tonne ute buyers are private or small fleet customers, “there will still be very attractive offers for fleet buyers”.

“We’re keen to grow our presence in an important market. This is a core model for Mazda and it’s been a long time between drinks. This truck is going to be a winner, don’t you worry about that,” said Mr Dickson.

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